'Star Trek Beyond' Director Recalls Classic Show's 'Sense Of Family'
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Comic-Con continues today in San Diego. And for those of you who are not in the know, this is the annual gathering of pop culture fanatics. Most of them are psyched to dress up as their favorite characters and meet some big-name stars.
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IDRIS ELBA: How you doing, Comic-Con?
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).
MCEVERS: Like Idris Elba, the villain in the new movie "Star Trek Beyond." It premiered at Comic-Con on Wednesday.
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SHOHREH AGHDASHLOO: (As Commodore Paris) In the vastness of space, there's only yourself, your ship, your crew.
KARL URBAN: (As Dr. McCoy) You really want to head back out there, huh?
MCEVERS: The movie boomed outside, playing on an IMAX screen in front of the ocean. Afterwards, there were thank you's from "Star Trek Beyond's" 44-year-old director, Justin Lin.
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JUSTIN LIN: Unbelievable premiere. Thank you.
MCEVERS: Lin comes to this with a lot of experience. He's directed several of the "Fast And Furious" movies. My co-host, Ari Shapiro, caught up with him last week to talk about the latest "Star Trek" film. Turns out Justin Lin is a long-time fan of Captain Kirk and company. And he says this all started at home with his Taiwanese family.
LIN: My family and I, we had just immigrated to the states. And my parents had this little fish and chips restaurant. And they ran 364 days a year, and the only day they took off was Thanksgiving. And they would work until 9 p.m. They'd close shop, and as a family we would have our dinner at 10 p.m. And "Star Trek" would come on TV at Channel 13 at 11:00, so my brothers and I, we would try to talk our way into just hanging out with them. And so from 8 to 18, before I left for college, that was our family time - was watching "Star Trek."
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Back then, there were not a lot of TV shows or movies that had as diverse a cast as "Star Trek" did. Was that something that you were aware of as a kid?
LIN: You know, I remember thinking that when we first moved to the states, it felt very lonely. It was just the five of us. You know, I didn't know how to speak English at the time. And I remember watching "Star Trek" - and it was very progressive. And at the same time, I think the notion of family, of this group of people with various backgrounds coming together and going on this shared journey, that sense of family was very new. And I kind of embraced that. That became part of me. And I felt like it was worth it to try to really just kind of go all out and try to hopefully contribute to the legacy of this franchise.
SHAPIRO: But when everyone has so much history with this franchise - I mean, it just marked its 50th anniversary - does that make it harder for you to exercise your own creativity?
LIN: Well, I think that's the challenge. And I think my take of "Star Trek" is to really kind of embody the essence of what makes "Star Trek" great - you know, the sense of family, the sense of exploration. But at the same time, the mission statement of "Star Trek" is to be bold and to push forward and to try something new, you know? So I felt like that was the perfect combination for me and for us as a team, you know, to try to tackle.
SHAPIRO: So the thing that you tried new - you destroyed the Starship Enterprise (laughter).
LIN: You know, when I was thinking about "Star Trek" in 50 years, I felt like it was time to try to deconstruct "Star Trek," to deconstruct the notion of utopia and a lot of the things that we might have now taken for granted. And hopefully by doing that we can reaffirm why there's a passion for "Star Trek," why we love it so much, you know? And in this case I think it ended up being a very literal way. You know, it's ripping apart the Enterprise, which is very much the security blanket or the home for all these characters.
SHAPIRO: I looked up the box office numbers for the last "Star Trek" movie, "Into Darkness," which came out in 2013. And in North America, it took in $228 million. Worldwide, it earned $467 million, which is close to twice as much. So when you know that you need to appeal to a global audience and not just an American one, how do you approach making a film differently?
LIN: I think it's about character and it's about a relationship that you build. And I think "Star Trek" - it's a very unique piece of property. It's actually thrived in multiple mediums. So I feel like "Star Trek" should be equally compelling if you're doing a space battle as if it was just two characters talking in a room. And I remember watching it, and in my head I was thinking, do Chekov and Sulu - did they hang out when they leave the bridge? Do they have a family? Do they have relationships outside of what we see on the screen? And that's something that I wanted to try to bring on screen.
SHAPIRO: Your first movie, "Better Luck Tomorrow," broke the rules for depicting Asian characters on screen. And you went into debt to make that movie on your own terms. And it was a big hit. And so I wonder when you're given a multimillion dollar budget to create the latest installment in a decades-old franchise, does any part of you bristle at the lack of freedom that a studio might impose?
LIN: Well, I actually think being an indie filmmaker and then entering the system, I've had total freedom.
SHAPIRO: I've got to say I've never heard any director of any movie with the budget of "Star Trek" say I have had total freedom. I mean...
LIN: ...I'll tell you, if you don't like the movie, it's on me. And that's all I can ask for as a filmmaker. The thing that I love about filmmaking is that when you do an indie movie, the passion becomes the currency - right? - because nobody signs up to work on that movie unless they really believe in it, you know? And the challenge that I faced when I went into the studio system was that money was the currency, you know? And for me, that's not really acceptable. And if we're going to show up, like, let's have fun. Let's really push each other, you know? And there has to be a voice. There has to be a point of view. Without it, to me, it's not really worth going and spending 24/7 for 18 months trying to make this film.
SHAPIRO: "Star Trek," as we mentioned, has been known for diversity since its creation. And we're coming out of a period right now where Hollywood has been heavily criticized for its lack of diversity. As the film industry takes some steps to try to fix this problem, I wonder whether you see this as kind of a knee-jerk reaction or a long-term shift.
LIN: Well, I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful it's a long-term shift. But I - you know, I remember even when I started out and you would do casting calls, I was always kind of, like, confused why it's never just an open call. Why don't they just call in the actors and whoever's best gets the role? And so...
SHAPIRO: ...You mean they would say this character should be played by a Latino actor, this character should be played by a white actor and so on?
LIN: Oh yeah, it's very much - they don't call in the - you know, the Latino actors or the Asian-American actors unless it's specifically saying it on-page. And any leads, it's always kind of driven by a lot of the agencies and stuff, so you're not seeing anybody other than probably Caucasian actors. To me, it has always been an issue of opportunity. And that's all you can ask for, is to go in that room and to duke it out and earn that role, to earn that film, you know? I'm glad that it's being talked about and I hope it's not just a knee-jerk reaction, but I - sometimes when I hear people talk about it, I feel like they're kind of missing the point because at the end of day, it's still a group of people coming together, trying to tell a story.
SHAPIRO: Justin Lin, thanks so much for your time.
LIN: Thank you.
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SHAPIRO: Justin Lin is the director of "Star Trek Beyond."
(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL GIACCHINO SONG, "STAR TREK MAIN THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.